Monday, August 26, 2013

"Into the Whirlwind" Review

As owner of the 57th Illinois Watch Company, Mollie Knox loves nothing more than running the business that her father left to her. She enjoys her orderly life, and she adores the fact that she is able to help her father’s fellow Civil War veterans have employment and a better life.

Zack Kazmarek is a lawyer for one of the best department stores in Chicago, and he is accustomed to making his own way. For years he has been handling the business dealings of the store, including the contracts for the elaborate pocket watches that are created by Mollie Knox and her staff. And each time she comes to his office, he admires her more and more.

But every citizen in Chicago sees their normal lives go up in smoke in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire. Mollie and Zack – along with Mollie’s lawyer and friend, Frank, and a lost child, Sophie – battle their way through the swarming streets of Chicago to escape the raging inferno.

In the days following the devastating fire, the city of Chicago has a chance to rebuild bigger and better than it ever was before. Will Zack and Mollie be able to say the same about their own lives?

The premise of this novel was really intriguing to me, and I was looking forward to reading it purely for the historical aspect alone. However as I read this book, I just couldn’t make up my mind what I felt about it. I liked the historical details, and the book really got off to an exciting start. But for reasons that I can’t completely put my finger on, I didn’t like it as much as I did previous novels by this author.

I think what made me feel this way the most was how much I didn’t really like the main female character Mollie. I really didn’t appreciate how she treated Sophie. Yes, Sophie was spoiled and not pleasant to be around. She definitely needed to be taken to task about her behavior, but she was still a child, and a possible orphan at that. At one point Mollie says to herself that “the prospect of raising her (Sophie) was as appealing as hauling a millstone around her neck for the next ten years.” It was those kinds of thoughts towards a poor orphan child and the way that she treated Zack that did not endear me to Mollie. She seemed to have no compassion at all. She only cared about her perfect, ordered life, and she was stubborn to the point of being childish. Mollie did feel some affection and honor towards the wounded Civil War veterans in her employ, which kept her from coming across as completely devoid of emotion. All of this would have been acceptable if she had experienced growth in some way over the course of the novel, but she did not.

I liked Zack more than I liked Mollie in this book, but he also seemed to be a contradiction. He was portrayed as this strong, resourceful, pulled-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps kind of guy, but when it came to Mollie, he was a coward in every sense of the word. I mean, he pined for her from afar for three years? To me that just didn’t fit with the rest of his character. Aside from that, Zack was the most interesting of the characters.

As for the spiritual aspect, it wasn’t very deep at all. It seemed to just be thrown in here and there without much meaning or relation to the characters’ everyday lives. The characters in this book had every opportunity for deep spiritual growth considering all that they went through, but I just didn’t feel it.

The best part of this novel was definitely its historical setting. The city of Chicago came alive almost as an additional character in the book. The description of the fire was very well done, especially the parts immediately following the fire when the people rallied to rebuild their glorious city. I also enjoyed the watch-making portions of the novel.

This novel almost seems to go in a reverse form from a typical book. With the fire taking place at the beginning, it seemed as if that was the climax, and then the rest of the book was all the rest of the details of rebuilding and then the love triangle with Mollie, Zack, and Richard. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with this unique way of telling the story, but it did make the middle portion of the book drag a bit.

Overall I thought the historical information and details in this book were outstanding, but the fiction story around the history left a little bit to be desired.

I will give Into the Whirlwind … 3 BookWorms.


Into the Whirlwind
by Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: August 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Slow Moon Rising" Review

In Slow Moon Rising, we return to idyllic Cedar Key – the place of peace and rest for generations of the Claybourne family. Anise, Kimberly, Jayme-Leigh, Heather, and Ami – each woman experiences her share of heartbreak.

When family secrets come to light, everyone in the Claybourne family must decide which path to take – one that will lead to destruction or one that will lead to reconciliation.

Slow Moon Rising is the final chapter of the Cedar Key series by Eva Marie Everson.

From the very beginning, this novel kind of got off on the wrong foot with me. Anise’s attraction to older men was something that I could not relate to at all, and I actually found it kind of disturbing. When Anise first meets Ross, she is 38, and he is 60. Those ages are fairly close to the ages of my father and me. So, I was pretty uncomfortable with this relationship from the beginning, and I found it hard to shake even as I kept reading the book.

This novel is told from the points of view of several main characters. I didn’t think I was going to like this at first, but it actually made me more interested in the story than I think I would have been if it had been told in a different way. Sometimes these changes in scene were a bit abrupt, but overall it was a pretty good way to tell the story of this family. I liked having the different perspectives of the family members.

It was interesting that this novel went back in time to before the beginning of the first Cedar Key book, it then kind of retold the stories in the first two books again, and then it ended many years later. It was a prequel, middle, and sequel all in one, which was very unique. The individual plots didn’t always interest me, but it was nice to have all of the family members’ stories come together and be wrapped up in this novel. I liked returning to Cedar Key to once again experience that setting and its characters.

This entire novel revolves around the Claybourne family and their lives over many years. The members of this family face many things such as divorce, cancer, infertility, losing loved ones, alcoholism, past affairs – the list goes on. While I am not so na├»ve as to think that these things don’t happen in the real world or even in my own family, the way in which the Cedar Key series portrays these situations just felt too soap opera-y for me. There didn’t seem to be enough balance between these things that happen in life versus our strength to face them through Christ.

I also thought the ending to this novel was way too drawn out and depressing. The final event that took place was real and difficult and very hard to read. I appreciate when authors don’t go too far away from reality, but I primarily read for enjoyment and for entertainment. It is not enjoyable for me to read a book revolving around such hardships in the life of this family without a really good sense of hope and spiritual growth throughout. This novel touched on that hope here and there (with an out-of-nowhere, one-time, deep spiritual discussion towards the end), but the overall feeling was just dismal.

Slow Moon Rising was well-written in the way that it wrapped up all of the storylines from the Cedar Key series, but it lacked the hope and grace that I have come to expect from Christian fiction.

I will give Slow Moon Rising … 2 BookWorms.

Slow Moon Rising
by Eva Marie Everson
Book 3 in the Cedar Key series
Revell Publishers
Publication date: June 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Bible Savvy Series Review

New from Moody Publishers:

The Bible Savvy Series

If someone approached you and said:

 "The Bible is such a daunting book, written in ancient times and addressed to vastly different cultures. Is it really possible to draw relevant insight from it for our lives today?"

Would you know how to respond?
     Accurately? Succinctly? Truthfully?

Jim Nicodem can help.

Made up of four individual volumes (Epic, Foundation, Context, and Walk), Bible Savvy is a foundational resource for those wanting to better understand the Bible.

From the whole storyline of the Bible to personal application and how to live it, this set of four accessible books is an ideal resource for small groups, Sunday school classes, youth groups, and individuals seeking to increase their breadth of knowledge about God's word.

Epic: The Storyline of the Bible unveils the single theme that ties all the various parts of scripture together: redemption.

Foundation: The Trustworthiness of the Bible explains that the Bible is God's book, not merely man made, and why it can be wholly trusted.

Context: How to Understand the Bible shows readers how to read the different parts of the Bible as they were meant to be read and how they fit together.

Walk: How to Apply the Bible helps readers put their greater understanding of the text into practice and how to draw real-life applications from it.

About the Author: JIM NICODEM has been the senior pastor of Christ Community Church since its start in 1984. Beginning with a group of six families, the church has grown to over five thousand people at four campuses. A significant focus on reaching spiritual seekers has resulted in scores of new believers being baptized each year.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jim did his schooling in Biblical studies (BA/Wheaton College; MDiv, DMin/Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). In keeping with Christ Community Church's mission to make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ, Jim loves to mentor others in prayer and the study of God's Word. With that goal in mind, he has authored Prayer Coach: For All Who Want to Get Off the Bench and Onto the Praying Field (2008) and the four-book Bible Savvy series (2013).

Jim and his wife, Sue, have been married for more than thirty years and have three grown children. Jim enjoys biking, hiking and kayaking for recreation. He loves to hang out in Chicago, where he can watch the Cubs play (no better park than Wrigley) or listen to the world-class Symphony Orchestra. The local Starbucks also sees a lot of Jim, accompanied by books (mostly biographies) or friends.

My Take:
 My husband will be doing the review for these books!

I teach a class at my church called Overview of the Bible, and this series of books would fit in perfectly.  Jim Nicodem writes this series of books very plainly so that anyone can pick them up and understand what is being said.  However, at the same time, he doesn't insult the reader.  I felt like I was in a conversation with Jim rather than reading a book.

New Christians, or people wanting to know more about Christianity, will learn a lot about how the Bible is put together and get a better grasp of what is in it.  Those who have been Christians longer will be able to gain a better understanding of concepts they know (or think they know).

I recommend these books to everyone wanting to grow closer to God by getting better at reading the Bible.

I give these books 4.5 out of 5 bookworms.

The Bible Savvy Series
by Jim Nicodem
Moody Publishers
Publication date: March 15, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Moody Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, August 12, 2013

"Prairie Song" Review

After months and even years of planning and preparing, the Boones Lick Company from St. Charles, Missouri, is ready to set out on the trail to the West.

Anna Goben is eager to go with the Company on the trail. Even though it will be hard to leave some of her beloved friends from the quilting circle, Anna is convinced that her mother and grandfather will benefit from new scenery, new people, and a new life away from the ever-present cloud of grief that has surrounded her family since her brother’s death in the Civil War.

Caleb Reger, a trail hand with the Company, desires to run away from a cloud of grief as well. His closely-guarded secrets from the war have him running from his family and from the God he promised to serve. The last thing he needs is for a stubborn and independent – and beautiful – woman like Anna Goben to get in the way.

With Caleb running from his past and Anna doing everything she can to help her family, the two seem unlikely to ever let their hearts turn to thoughts of love. But life on the trail may just change their minds.

Prairie Song is the first in a series by Mona Hodgson that follows a group of travelers as they venture west into a new land. Through it all, will the hope they have in God and His grace lead them to the Promised Land?

I have read a lot of books about the Oregon/California Trail in my day. I really enjoy them – that’s why I keep reading them – and I always go into a series like this wondering what type of angle the author will take and what new things about life on the trail to the West I will learn.

This Trail novel didn’t really give me too much new information historically, even though it was well-written as far as the history and time period goes. What it really brought up more than the history of life on the trail was a depth of spiritual growth in the characters that I have found to be typical of this author.

So, instead of focusing entirely on trail life, Prairie Song focuses on the characters – and there are a lot of them! I would be lost if I hadn’t read the previous series of novellas that led up to it, the Quilted Heart novellas.

The stories of Garrett Cowlishaw and Caroline Milburn from the third novella in that series were also continued here in this novel. This ‘two stories in one’ of Anna/Caleb & Garrett/Caroline sometimes got to be a bit much, but I understand why this was done. Novels about life on the trail during this time period (1860s) can get a bit monotonous, so having four main characters kept things a little more interesting.

What I liked most about the characters was how they read the Bible and experienced tremendous growth throughout the novel. I especially related to Caleb’s experience of not feeling forgiven by God. He knew in his head and heart that he had been forgiven, but he didn’t always have the faith to believe it and live it. Anna also had some growing to do before she could give her heart to Caleb. She had been allowing her past experiences to rule her future instead of trusting in God to do so. It was so interesting to me how Anna kept trying to change her mother, who was an alcoholic, rather than trusting in God to change her mother as He saw fit. That part of the plot was unique and lent itself to some spiritual issues coming to the surface that I might not otherwise have thought about.

As far as the romances, the one between Garrett and Caroline progressed as I guessed it would – without too much fanfare. With Anna and Caleb, I was a little more interested in their relationship. There was a hint of the Big Misunderstanding plot device, but luckily it came from stubbornness on the part of one of the characters as opposed to a comedy of errors such as misplaced notes or some other such foolishness.

While there were some heartbreaking moments for these characters, they never were without hope, which kept the overall feel of the book from being depressing. Not everything that happens to these characters is completely wrapped up in this title, which is to be expected from a series.

I can’t necessarily say that this Oregon/California Trail book sets itself apart too much from other ones that I have read other than the spiritual depth that was portrayed, but it was still a good novel, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

I will give Prairie Song ... 3 ½ BookWorms.

Prairie Song
by Mona Hodgson
"Hearts Seeking Home" Book #1
WaterBrook Press
Publication date: August 6, 2013

Find out more info about this book here.
Author's website:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from WaterBrook Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 9, 2013

"Stealing the Preacher" Review

About the Book: On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can't believe it when he's forced off the train by an outlaw and presented to the man's daughter as the preacher she requested for her birthday. He's determined to escape--which would be much easier if he could stop thinking about Joanna Robbins and her unexpected request.

For months, Joanna had prayed for a minister. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. But just when it seems her prayers have been answered, it turns out the parson is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett he ended up right where he was supposed to be?

With her signature blend of humor, history, and lively western romance, two-time RITA Award finalist and bestselling author Karen Witemeyer delivers a Texas love story sure to steal your heart.

My Take:

When I discovered that there was to be a sequel to Short-Straw Bride, I was interested, but I wasn’t so sure. I really enjoyed two of Karen Witemeyer’s other novels – A Tailor-Made Bride and To Win Her Heart – but Short-Straw Bride actually was one that I didn’t like as much.

Fortunately, Stealing the Preacher seemed to get back to what I love about Ms. Witemeyer’s writing. It actually really reminded me more of To Win Her Heart, which is my favorite of her novels so far.

After what I thought was a pretty ridiculous, albeit exciting, set-up to the plot in the beginning of the novel, this book settled down and really got to what I like about Christian historical fiction. The characters were relatable, and the Christians in the novel turned to the Bible for comfort and peace and for direction in their lives. Other characters experienced significant spiritual growth, and there was an overall feeling of hope even in dark times.

I was also moved by the compassion with which Joanna and Crockett approached others in their lives. They were so passionate about reaching others for Christ, and I loved how they lived out their testimonies with actions as well as words.

The romance between Crockett and Joanna was bordering on love-at-first sight, which I sometimes find a bit unbelievable. I will say that even though I was initially hesitant about this tactic, Joanna and Crockett did seem to be made for each other! I loved how Crockett thought Joanna was beautiful even if she didn’t think so herself.

This story definitely had the potential to be one-dimensional, since most of it takes place on the ranch or at the church, but there were enough subplots in the story to keep it interesting. The main plot was somewhat predictable, but I was so invested in the characters that I wanted to see how they would get to the ending that I knew was coming. This is actually the kind of book that I like the best. I like happy endings, and this one totally blew me away. The forgiveness and redemption that took place in the lives of the characters was phenomenal. It perfectly portrayed how a person can be completely changed through the salvation that comes from Christ alone.

As in To Win Her Heart, I was a little bit sad to leave these characters. I was so overjoyed at the ending that I just wanted to keep reading about them! I would love to revisit the Archer brothers in future books (maybe a book for Neill?)!

I will give Stealing the Preacher … 4 BookWorms.

Stealing the Preacher
by Karen Witemeyer
Follow-up to Short-Straw Bride (but can be read as a standalone novel)
Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: June 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

"Small Town Girl" Review

Kate Merritt has been in love with Pastor Mike since she was fifteen – or so she thought. With her sister actually being the one to marry Pastor Mike and with a charming best man in the form of Jay Tanner showing up to the wedding, Kate doesn’t know what to think anymore.

Jay Tanner has spent his life mostly on his own. Being raised by an unloving aunt and uncle after the death of his mother has caused Jay to feel that the only person he can trust is himself. But meeting Kate changes everything, and Jay is drawn to the town of Rosey Corner and the people there in a way he has never experienced before.

The United States is on the brink of entering the Second World War, and no one in the country will remain unaffected. Will Jay and Kate be able to learn to trust, or will the war in the land – and in their own hearts – keep them apart?

Small Town Girl is the second book in the Rosey Corner series by Ann H. Gabhart.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series – Angel Sister – so when I found out there was to be another book about Kate and her family, I was so excited. As I began the book, I delighted in returning to Rosey Corner and reconnecting with all of the characters from the first book.

After I was reacquainted with the characters and the story, however, I thought the plot moved rather slowly. I appreciated that the author was giving Kate and Jay time to get to know each other – quick romances are definitely a pet peeve of mine – but the whole story just moved very slowly, especially in the middle. Since the bombing of Pearl Harbor and other crucial events didn’t take place until at least ¾ of the way through the novel, there didn’t seem to be enough to keep the plot moving before that. It was mostly just inner monologues from Kate and Jay.

Even though these inner monologues were somewhat repetitive, they did help to develop the main characters very well.  I really felt as if I knew them, and I thought Jay’s growth throughout the novel was excellent. The character of Lorena is just a delight, and I absolutely loved how Kate and her family embraced Jay and showed him how a relationship with God completely changes your life.

I have to say, though, that the advice Kate received from almost everyone in her life confused me a bit. Again, I loved how they took Jay in and showed him how a family loves and showed him that God loves him, too. I also really liked the open and honest relationship that Kate had with her mother. But her mother’s advice to “follow her heart” when she was unsure of Jay’s relationship with Christ seemed contradictory. Kate and the other members of her family seemed to seek God through prayer and through the Bible constantly, so this advice from several members of the family didn’t seem to fit. This contradiction just bothered me throughout the novel, even as I was enjoying the rest of the story.

Although I didn’t find it as captivating as Angel Sister, I did enjoy Small Town Girl. The last quarter of the book was very intense and moving – so much so that I am really hoping that there is another book in this series. I want to know what happens in the lives of Kate and her sisters in the future.

I will give Small Town Girl … 3 BookWorms.


Small Town Girl
by Ann. H. Gabhart
Book #2 in the "Rosey Corner" series
Revell Publishers
Publication date: July 1, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."